Lake Tanganyika is my favourite cichlid lake by far. It intrigues me because of it’s astounding history, evolution, population of both cichlids and other fish as well as its sheer diversity from one point to the next both in length and depth; from being well-oxygenated at the surface and within parts of water/stream entry to having no oxygen at all below a certain depth.
Lake Tanganyika cichlids are by far the most colourful and diverse and also happen to be the most difficult to keep given their specific needs. All of this is explained below.
Tanganyika cichlids are a group of African cichlids from the Great Rift Valley region. All Tanganyika cichlids are native to Lake Tanganyika and many species are endemic to the lake. Lake Tanganyika comprises three main biotopes: the first one is the bottom which is covered in empty snail shell, the second consists of underwater reefs and the rocky shorelines that encircle the lake, and the third biotope is the large open water areas. Tanganyika cichlids are found in all three biotopes and the different species have adapted to these various environments.
When you keep Tanganyika cichlids in your aquarium it is therefore advisable to find out which biotope they belong to in the wild, since a rock living Tanganyika cichlid have other preferences than a shell dweller and so on. The water chemistry will however be the same in the entire lake and the water temperature is stable. The Tanganyika cichlids live in the upper part of this deep lake where the temperature stays around 24-29°C. Species that spend most of their time close to the surface will be used to slightly larger variations in water temperature; 23-31°C.
If you keep Tanganyika cichlids that inhabit regions where rivers and streams empty into Lake Tanganyika, they can appreciate a somewhat different water quality but these variations are generally quite small. Since Lake Tanganyika is a large lake the environment is very stable and Lake Tanganyika cichlids are not used to rapid changes. The vastness of the lake also means that any pollution will be diluted. Strive to keep the levels of ammonia and nitrite at zero, and do not allow the nitrate to reach above 20 ppm. The pH should ideally be in the 7.8-8.5 range, the GH 12-20, and the KH 10-15.
Lake Tanganyika is more than 1400 meters deep, which means that it is the second deepest lake in the world. It is also a very old lake. Faulting and tectonic processes in the earth’s surface created Lake Tanganyika 7-10 million years ago. Since the lake is so old, the species that inhabit the lake have had a long time to specialize and develop into new species. Today, there are over 250 known endemic fish species in Lake Tanganyika. Since Lake Tanganyika has not been thoroughly explored yet, scientists suspect that they will find even more new species here in the future. Among the cichlids, the level of specialization is remarkable and 98 percent of the known cichlid species in Lake Tanganyika can be found nowhere else in the world. Lake Tanganyika cichlids belong to over 150 different genera and they have adapted to all possible environments within the lake.
Tanganyika cichlids claim territories before they breed, and keeping them in a small and crowded aquarium is therefore unadvisable. You can keep Lake Tanganyika cichlids in a community aquarium, but you should always make sure that they have enough space. It is possible to mix Tanganyika cichlids from different biotopes if you have a big aquarium. One end of the aquarium can for instance be decorated with shells for the shell-dwellers, while the other end has plenty of caves and crevices for the rock-dwelling cichlids.